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A Saudi Arabian military hospital has confiscated passports of SA nurses – with one barred from returning home for two years – following patients’ complaints.
While a recruitment expert says the practice is in violation of the kingdom’s own legislation, returned SA nurses who spoke to The Sunday Independent say the confiscation of passports is common practice.
The Sunday Independent has seen correspondence between officials at Riyadh Military Hospital which details the concerns of maternity ward nurses. According to the document, six nurses have had their passports held. Four are South African. The other two are from the UK and India.
Since the March correspondence, one nurse has been cleared of any wrongdoing and can return home.
According to the letter, passports were being held as a result of complaints by patients.
“The midwife is not informed that her passport is on hold and only becomes aware of this fact once she files for annual leave…”
There was consensus that when the complaint against a nurse involved a serious incident or death, confiscation of a passport may be necessary, the letter says.
However nurses were prevented from leaving the country for minor complaints, or even for queries lodged against the doctors.
In one case a patient complained that a midwife had kicked her and in another that a nurse opened a window in the ward.
“The situation is very stressful and demoralising to staff in the maternity department. Staff are extremely concerned that for the slightest mistake or miscommunication or misunderstanding by a patient, their passport will be (withheld),” the nurses said in the letter.
Contacted for comment, Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi said it was the first he had heard of passport confiscation in Saudi Arabia, but he was concerned.
“I don’t think international labour laws allow that to happen,” he said, adding that the nurses could lodge a complaint via the Health Department for referral to the Department of International Relations and Co-operation.
International recruitment specialist Donè Madden said the confiscation of passports was not allowed by Saudi labour law.
Saudi Arabia embassy officials in Pretoria said they could only respond tomorrow despite questions sent to them on Thursday.
International Relations spokesman Clayson Monyela said on Saturday: “The department is aware of some of the allegations… we’re still busy investigating.”